After all the rain, after all the fury, after all the distractions of this most hurly-burly of tennis tournaments, the 15th day had something to give.
On a sweet, sunny but somewhat anticlimactic Monday evening, Juan Martín del Potro shocked Roger Federer, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, to keep Federer from winning his 16th Grand Slam tournament and his sixth straight U.S Open.
He is now the fourth Argentine to win a Grand Slam after Guillermo Vilas, Gaston Gaudio and Gabriela Sabatini.
Del Potro, who will turn 21 on September. 23, just wore down Federer, 28, the way this tournament produces the thousand-mile stare on everybody at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. And it wore people down in overtime again this year, extended by rain late last week.
In the final sets, Federer sometimes could not turn his normally supple body, could not give himself the normal follow-through that produces his wonderful torque. He looked leaden-legged and tentative against a man little known, until recently, outside the meatpacking hill town of Tandil, Argentina.
“You deserve it; you had a great tournament,” Federer told del Potro at the net.
At the subsequent victory ceremony, del Potro had to hint that he would like to thank his family and friends and Argentine supporters in Spanish, which he was eventually allowed to do. He was very sweet and very respectful toward Federer after wearing him down over 4 hours 6 minutes.
“I see Roger, he is a gentleman player, I have many things to learn from him,” del Potro said later.
In this first five-set final in a decade, Federer made 15 unforced errors in the final set to del Potro’s four. Maybe Federer, the five-time champion, was worn down after helping care for his twins.
This match was better than fans might have expected when del Potro dispatched an obviously wounded Rafael Nadal in the semifinals on Sunday - and then apologized, sort of.
Instead of the compact and energetic Nadal on the traditionally charged Sunday afternoon, the Open got del Potro on a weekday, but he brought his Argentine fans with him, just enough people shouting soccer chants and waving the Argentine flag to give the place some energy.
The last five-setter was in 1999, when Andre Agassi won his second Open, this one over Todd Martin, whose name is not often associated with five-set final thrills.
Del Potro, who is 6 feet 6 inches tall — five inches taller than Federer — gave the crowd some hope in the second set when he temporarily figured out Federer’s softer game.
“With Roger, the best player in history, I have nothing to lose,” del Potro said.
By the third set, Federer was reduced to a terse exchange with the chair umpire, even dropping a rather routine expletive in the middle of it, although nothing of the Serena Williams level.
In the fourth set, Federer had to negotiate the right to make a challenge, which he won - a rare success at challenges for him - only to lose the set. Late in the fourth, Federer could barely get around for what should have been a routine forehand against the challenger. “I’ve had a wonderful year and I’m still No. 1,” Federer said later, while praising del Potro.
Del Potro’s upset and his pleasant demeanour upgraded the men’s tournament, but the two-week Open still belonged to Clijsters, in the Women’s singles on Sunday.